Post-Ownership

I am a big fan of digital games. In fact, I am having a difficult time remembering the last actually physical game I have purchased. The Greatest Hits version of Final Fantasy XII (still shrink-wrapped)? Or… yeah, probably Fallout 3 for PC – unless Wrath of the Lich King counts, anyway. As you can imagine, I skipped this entire console cycle and plan to continue holding out until I at least see if the Xbox 720 and PS4 are going to be backwards compatible.

At first, my purchasing habits were driven more by pragmatism than anything else. With the exclusion of a ridiculous find of Fallout 1 & 2 bundled for $15 and Planescape: Torment bundled similarly at a Media Play (anyone remember those?), computer games had always seemed stuck in the realm of permanent MSRP or mislabeled bargain bin treasure. Meanwhile, the local used game dealership offered a nice selection of $25 titles that you could eventually turn around sell back for $10 or so. Between the cheaper games and the likelihood of four-player split-screen shenanigans, there really was no contest.

Then… Steam happened. And cable internet. And WoW too.

Over time, I realized I no longer felt the need to “own” my games anymore. Keeping track of all the cartridges and discs started being a chore, and god help you if you misplaced the registration code for a PC game that you still actually had the disc(s) for. If legally all we are buying is a license instead of an actual good, then why could I not play Diablo 2 for a three-month period when I couldn’t find the case? Between that nonsense and how frequently I found myself downloading no-CD cracks for games I bought, it was really just a matter of time until I started eschewing gaming packaging altogether if I could help it.

What brought all this up to me again is that I am moving to a new apartment this week. While rummaging around in long-forgotten closets, I came across my NES and SNES collections; the wave of nostalgia nearly rendered me unconscious. While I did act on the daydream of plugging the consoles back up in college one time, these pieces of electronics haven’t otherwise seen the light of day for almost a decade. Was I really going to pack them up and move them to a closet in the new place? Would my theoretical future child have the slightest bit of interest in daddy’s ancient consoles in 2020’s era of (mobile) games? Hell, would these things still even work?

Holding onto the Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid and Secret of Mana cartridges impacted me more than I thought it would, even as I was cataloging their condition to sell to a website. It is pretty well understood how ownership of a physical good can influence your perception of its value, so that should not have been a surprise to me. However, I could not help but think: in a post-ownership world, is anyone going to feel this way again?

Maybe our kids still will. After all, I never held onto a Mass Effect disc, but still choked up a bit after uninstalling. A digital version isn’t the same as holding onto a piece of plastic that has been in your life for 20 years, but… well, it will likely be easier to play again than any of my N64 games which are permanently MIA.

P.S. The website I am using is DKOldies.com, whose prices seem pretty reasonable. If you know of a better place, by all means let me know – I simply don’t have the interest in playing the eBay game when I could ship everything to a single location

About these ads

Posted on November 19, 2012, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What will we do when Steam goes belly-up?

    • Worst-case scenario is we lose access to said games, just like I lost access to Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Perfect Dark, and so on, despite still having the boxes and instruction manuals (I mean, seriously, how ’bout that shit?). Or how I lost access to Diablo 2 when I misplaced the registration code.

      I am not entirely sure if Valve came out and said they would unlock the DRM if Steam were shutting down (~I wanna believe~), but there are a number of ways such an outcome can be mitigated. First, if you have some forewarning or are just that paranoid, make sure every game you buy from them is downloaded to an external hard drive and booted up at least once; unless Valve baked in a killswitch, you can always run Steam in offline mode thereafter. Second, if you price the games you purchase through Steam with that possibility in mind (e.g. buy when they are much cheaper than any physical copy could be), there is no danger at all. Third, there is always piracy, possibly including Steam client cracks.

      The nostalgia is still pretty strong with these cartridges, but all told, I would much rather have the ability to actually play these games again when the mood strikes than have the physical shells and need to keep moving them around throughout my life.

      And besides, with how many games these days have online components that won’t survive the company closing (or shutting the servers down after 5 years), it may all be a moot point anyway.

  2. I guess I’m like you. Honestly, I don’t really need to be able to play x game forever. A few years is more than enough. I guess the nostalgia factor is there for some, but in my experience nostalgia is best un-relived.

    “What will we do when Steam goes belly-up?”

    Valve says they will disable DRM on the day-of. Even if they didn’t I’m not sure I would care. I guess it’s possible I might play Bioshock or something again, but I doubt I would be significantly hurt if I had to rebuy it.